Most website owners appreciate the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) for their website. What is sometimes under appreciated is that Google has regional versions and your website will rank differently in Google.co.jp than it does in Google.com. Your choice of domain name, how you interact with Google Webmaster Tools and other factors play a key part in your localized ranking success.
Google Japan now serves up the vast majority of search engine queries in Japan. Previously the search market was evenly split with Yahoo Japan’s Overture but as of late this year, Yahoo Japan has switched to using Google Japan for natural search queries. So how can you optimize your site to rank well? There are a number of “signals” which Google will use to determine the geographic relevance of your site.
- Language – It stands to reason that Google Japan will seek to serve up those results which it determines as most useful to it’s users so the language of the pages is obviously important. For this reason be sure to set the language attribute in your HTML parent tag to “Japanese” so that search engines easily recognize the natural language of the page. The code inside yourtags should look like this:
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" lang="ja" xml:lang="ja">
- Links From Japanese Sites – Of course all incoming links are good but incoming links from other Japan based sites, using Japanese anchor text can be another important clue for search engines.
- Server Location – The physical location of your hosting company can be an important indicator to Google that your target market is in the same country. But not all hosting companies are created equal so think carefully before choosing a Japan based hosting company for SEO reasons alone.
- Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) – Google has stated in the Official Google Webmaster Central blog that the server location is regarded as irrelevant if the site uses a ccTLD (e.g. www.mysite.jp). Google sees the “.jp” extension as a clear flag that the site is targeted to Japan and Japanese speakers.
- Google Webmaster Tools GeoTargeting – Google allows website owners and administrators to register their website and indicate via Webmaster Tools which country the website is targeted towards. One particularly useful feature is that Webmaster Tools allows you to segment your website into directories and target each directory at a different country e.g. www.mysite.com/ja for Japan, www.mysite.com/fr for France. This might be important for sites targeting Japanese plus one or more other languages from a single website.
So having dealt with the issue of geo-location at the macro level, what if we want to target a particular city or regional area? Research shows that local search is one of the most common uses of the internet.
- Google Places – Create a marker for your physical presence on Googles mapping service. For location based searches Google reserves up to four places on it front page of search results for businesses registered with Google Places (watch the video below to learn more).
- Contact Details – Include your address and contact information in machine readable HTML format on your home page. Some webmasters report good results from wrapping address information within HTML
- Rich Snippets – Google search engines will read and use your address information served up in microformat.